THE number of rail passenger journeys using the county's operator has fallen by nearly eight percent, new figures show.

It comes as new Office of Rail and Road data showed a nationwide fall for the first time in eight years.

Some 1.7 billion train journeys were taken in 2017/18, down 1.4 per cent on the previous 12 months.

It bucks the trend of passenger numbers continually rising since the financial crisis in 2009/10.

The recent decline was driven by a record fall of 2.1 per cent in the London and South East region, which makes up more than two-thirds of all journeys.

Meanwhile South Western Railway (SWR), which runs the railways on Hampshire's line to London Waterloo, recorded a 7.9 per cent fall in demand.

It comes after Tim O’Toole, chief executive of FirstGroup, which operates SWR, resigned with immediate effect earlier this month as the bus-to-train firm recorded huge losses reported to be £327 million.

In addition, SWR workers are set to strike on Thursday, June 21 in the long-running dispute over the role of guards.

Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union will walk out for three days.

Nationally, the journeys data showed the number of trips paid for with a season ticket was down 9.2 per cent, while use of regular tickets rose 3.8 per cent, suggesting a shift in the type of tickets being used.

Britain's busiest franchise, Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), saw a fall of almost two million journeys (0.6 per cent) amid industrial disputes, staffing issues and planned cancellations.

This was the second consecutive year that journey numbers fell on the GTR network.

Major engineering work at London Waterloo, industrial action and a transfer of franchise ownership all occurred in the 2017/18 period.

There was an increase of 6.4 per cent in Chiltern Railways journeys, boosted by the direct route between London Marylebone and Oxford city centre which opened in December 2016.

ScotRail saw growth of 3.8 per cent, which coincided with the completion of improvement projects and electrification works.